Research into motion sensitivity could lead to improved rehabilitation programmes and an improvement in building designs for people with a rare inner ear condition that affects their balance. 

Dr Jessica Tyrrell at the University of Exeter‚Äôs Medical School is using the VSimulators research facility at Exeter Science Park to explore the response to different types and degrees of floor motion in people with Meniere‚Äôs Disease, condition that can lead to vertigo, tinnitus, nausea and loss of hearing. 

VSimulators is a unique, state-of-the art platform, combining a six dimensional motion platform and virtual reality technology, to recreate a range of environments, physically and virtually, for multi-disciplinary research. 

In collaboration with Dr Genevieve Williams, a researcher in the University‚Äôs Sport & Health Sciences, Mr Malcolm Hilton from the University of Exeter Medical School, and funded researcher Matt Smith, Dr Tyrrell is using the VSimulator‚Äôs state-of-the-art motion platform to compare the level at which participants with and without compromised inner ear systems can detect motion on the six-dimensional moving platform and compare the motion sensitivity across the different planes of motion individually and in combination. 

The team is capturing when participants detect motion, through methods including oral confirmation, motion capture suits – wearable devices that record the movements of the wearer, and pressure through force plates – instruments that measure the ground reaction forces generated by a body standing on or moving across them, to quantify parameters such as balance and gait. 

Dr Tyrrell said: ‚ÄúThere is anecdotal evidence that people with inner ear problems such as Meniere‚Äôs Disease are more aware of motion in structures such as bridges and floors, but there is a lack of good quality research to back that up. 

‚ÄúIn our research, we plan to compare motion sensitivity in individuals with Meniere‚Äôs Disease with people that do not have compromised inner ear systems. This could have an impact in terms of improving design in the built environment and using better materials to improve the experience of people with inner ear disorders. The research will also help to improve rehabilitation programs for individuals with Meniere‚Äôs by focussing on the key areas of motion sensitivity and imbalance.‚ÄĚ 

The ¬£100,000 funding for the research was provided by Graham Cole and was secured by the University‚Äôs Global Advancement team as part of the Making the Exceptional Happen Campaign. Graham was awarded an Honorary Degree from Exeter in 2015 and has been a member of University of Exeter Council since 2017. 

‚ÄėMaking the Exceptional Happen‚Äô is the largest campaign in the University‚Äôs history, that originally aimed to raise ¬£60 million and 60,000 volunteering hours by the end of 2020. Thanks to the support of Exeter alumni and friends, both these targets were reached a year in advance and the campaign went on to raise more than ¬£68 million and in excess of 92,000 hours. 

Donations have funded vital research into diseases such as dementia, diabetes and cancer; into environmental problems like climate change, plastic pollution and food security; and into understanding important economic, social and political dynamics across the world. 

The money raised has also supported students to both attend Exeter and to have the best possible experience during their time here. It has funded bursaries and scholarships so talented students can come irrespective of their financial background, and it has paid for sports facilities and student events. 

Graham Cole said: ‚ÄúI visited the VSimulators facility at Exeter Science Park last year and it is an exciting and unique piece of kit, which really captures the imagination. This facility could have huge potential in terms of advancing research into Meniere‚Äôs Disease, which is a poorly understood condition. I am very happy to support this research and look forward to hearing about the findings.‚ÄĚ 

Dr Shaun Curtis, Director of Global Advancement at the University of Exeter, said: ‚ÄúThis is an incredibly exciting piece of research that could make a huge difference to many people. We are very grateful to Graham for his generous philanthropy and ensuring that this crucial work has been made possible.‚ÄĚ